Five adults. Three bedrooms. One lockdown in New Zealand. I never expected this.
It’s as simple as that – in our family, at least. My German boyfriend and I are unexpectedly confined to the square meters of my Mum and Dad’s apartment, instead of roaming the beaches with the autumnal wind in our hair down here in New Zealand. As expats, we really should be back home in the Czech Republic where we’ve been living for a couple of years. Instead, our summer holiday in New Zealand to see my family was extended indefinitely thanks to that little old global pandemic.
We’re an exciting mix, here in Freemans Bay, a suburb of Auckland. Two of us are ‘Coronavirus refugees’ from Europe. The other two are Auckland professionals in industries directly affected by the nationwide shut-down. Finally, one of us is a roll-everything-into-one-and-call-it-being-a-mother, trying to balance all of us in the home with the grace of a gazelle.
Although it’s implausible for any one family to represent a whole nation, I feel like we predictably face the same challenges in many households. It’s easy to imagine that we are as relatable as any sitcom on Netflix. We’re all going through this mandatory lockdown in New Zealand together.
We sit crowded ’round the dining room table, wires going every which way, digital devices littering the tablecloth like shells on a beach. The engineer is on a call; the lawyer is typing furiously at an outrageous volume, and the writer (cough, cough, me) is amid her lockdown novella, deep in thought.
Soon, someone will put the kettle on.
Our lockdown in New Zealand is similar to loads of houses around the country. People have realised that working from home might be just as good – and just as bad – as working in the office. Of course, not everybody is lucky enough or able to take their work home. Instead, they are left with leaving financial instability, boredom, and anxiety as the only things sitting on the dining room table. The tragic spike in domestic violence reminds us that we all don’t have it good.
Just like millions of families around the globe, we didn’t anticipate this. We are all together in this fight against the outside world, trying to stay safe, stay sane, and stay virus-free. I did not imagine I would be doing this right now.
The truth is, the Coronavirus situation in New Zealand isn’t dire. We have relatively few deaths (around 20). And something like nearly 90% of all our cases sits in the recovered statistics category. Early on, the government created an alert level structure with four stages of ‘seriousness,’ with four being the worst. It’s well thought out, detailed, and leaves little room for misinterpretation; most understand that the lockdown in New Zealand is essential.
By this point, the borders had closed to anyone who isn’t a citizen or permanent residence, and anyone entering New Zealand is required to spend 14 days in a mandatory quarantine facility (airport hotel).
March 26th was the first day of Level 4 – Lockdown in New Zealand, and it was eerie. The centre of Auckland City was almost silent: there was no construction noise, no motorway traffic, no buzz of children going to school, and notably no smells. A few people walked in activewear and could be heard a hundred meters away, as their voices carried further than ever before.
People actually walked in the road.
Only essential businesses were operating, and people were visibly spooked about catching the virus. The novelty of having to stay at home was exciting at first, as we imagined having a break from society. All this free time with genuinely less to do?! Amazing. No pressure to meet friends, attend events, or organise the next month. It’s like the Christmas break that everyone dreams of but never seems to get.
A whole month of lockdown passed in the blink of an eye – just like that. The days began rolling into one while we tried to have some structure and routine. Daily walks. New recipes. Fresh bread. Morning coffee. Another sunset. We would celebrate the exact moment the sun floods into the living room and the temperature lifts (oh yeah, we don’t heat our houses here). You know, cool things. It’s the same everywhere, I imagine.
Many cozy evenings were spent sharing a bottle of wine and passionately risking everything in Catan. The days were somewhat exciting too. In fact, one day, Mum and I yolo’d and brought home a 20kg bag of flour. In 2020 in New Zealand, that’s really living on the edge.
After an eternity (or was it the blink of an eye?), Level 3 – Restrict began.
This officially means there is a “risk” that the disease isn’t contained, but businesses are starting to reopen (although many sadly never will). While shops are still closed, takeaways resume, and online shopping is permitted once again. The smell of freshly roasted coffee beans wafts in the streets, perfect for a country obsessed with a good cup of coffee.
Keeping a two-meter distance proves entirely challenging and is nearly impossible on footpaths that are only about two meters wide. Naturally, some people are more considerate than others (what’s new).
The next step – the next level to unlock in the game of Coronavirus – is Level 2 – Reduce, which means the disease is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains. Here is where kids can return to school, and shops and restaurants reopen but with strict social distancing guidelines in effect.
Finally, Level 1 – Prepare, will put us almost back to normal, with the disease being contained in New Zealand.
Closing the borders and halting most international travel, as well as locking down the population early, has likely spared our country. However, critics worry that we have destroyed the economy in the process.
It hasn’t been a sweet staycation for a lot of people. Jobs have been lost, and redundancy is the new *whisper* Voldemort. People without stability and savings have struggled. Everyone has undoubtedly struggled, in some way.
We just all do it differently. Not everyone comes out of this scar-free, and sadly not everyone comes out alive. We are all suffering.
As with the rest of the world, we are balancing precariously on the edge of – who knows what? A recession? Massive unemployment? Another wave of COVID-19? An underlying problem we haven’t discovered yet?
But thanks to time passing at its steady old predictable pace, we have been dealing with it and progressing through the crisis, one way or another.
The community has banded together to show support, and this is hugely comforting. Teddy bears adorn windowsills all around the country, turning our permitted local neighbourhood walks into adventurous bear hunts for kids. This show of solidarity breaches all classes, all races, all political preferences. A teddy in the window – of any shape, size, or colour – is the most natural way to say “I see you” and “I’m here too.” We’re all in this together.
Although we’ve been encouraged to only leave the house for exercise and supermarket shopping, there seems to be some kind of team spirit in standing in a snaking line, waiting excitedly to buy those fresh veggies and top up on Marmite and Weetbix.
There is something profoundly unifying about a scientific threat that makes us individually vulnerable but collectively strong.
One of the most valuable things in my lockdown has been the idle time we’ve spent together as a family (oh god, I sound like a nana, not a 25-year-old – but I’m serious). Sometimes, there’s not a lot going on, and that’s okay. It’s kind of soothing just to sit in the same room with your loved ones. Throwing banter and grinning at each other, or even just sitting quietly on opposite sofas, is nice.
We’ve got to know the most particular preferences of each other that might have been previously overlooked or forgotten. We know how to push each other’s buttons now more than ever.
Being stuck in a household with your family, your partner, or your flatmates provides endless opportunities for bonding, whether you want it or not. At least take some solace in the fact that we’re all in this together.
What we need to hold on to is our good old Kiwi spirit. It’s the time to lift each other up and hold off the darkness that threatens. Luckily, in New Zealand, the chances are, we’ll walk out of this one with our nation intact, and hopefully our humour too. We can, and we will do it together.
Because we’re in a special little corner of the world and…
She’ll be right, mate.
Are you in lockdown in New Zealand too? Where are you enduring lockdown at the moment? Where? What’s it look like where you are? Spill.